Yuri Yasuda, or Yureeka as she is more affectionaly known as, is a new generation of art collectors coming out of Japan; last year, fashion mogul and founder of Zozotown, Mr Yusaku Maezawa made waves when he dropped a cool US$57.3 million on a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at a Christie's sale, simultaneously breaking the artist's record price at auction and sending ripples through the art world. Since she was young, Yureeka has been surrounded by art – after all, her father is a notable art dealer – visiting museums and galleries, which is why art collecting is almost second nature to her. In our interview with her, she tells us what the current state of the Japanese art scene is like, what she enjoys collecting and some enviable art destinations to check out in Japan!
Could you tell us a little about your background and your first experiences with art?
I’m based in Tokyo and am the CEO and founder of two F&B related companies: one specializing in licensing/import/export of luxury brands, and the other dealing with retail and event operations. As a personal endeavor, I write essays and contribute interviews to art platforms. I also have been helping with the sponsorship and VIP relations of Art Fair Tokyo since last year. In addition, I like to keep active as the Japan brand ambassador for Pont des Arts, a limited collection of French wines and spirits that bridge the worlds of fine art and wine.
My first experience with art can be traced back to my childhood days growing up in the United States. My father was an aspiring architect turned art dealer based in New York, so I was very much exposed to a creative environment from a young age: tons of books at home, habitual visits to museums, auctions, artist studios… etc. One of his main projects was the curation of Naoshima Art Site which I visited for the first time as a teenager. I think it was then that it really struck me: how art can be a “way of life". It became something not commercial or forced but was very organic to me.
My interest in collecting was sparked when I began attending art fairs on my own. I believe that in order to appreciate and understand “art” in all its various realms, relevance, complexities – or lack thereof – exposure is key. Appropriating the eye, engaging with artists, and discoursing amongst fellow collectors has really nurtured a sense of self awareness. I find myself connecting the dots much better than before, and my depth of curiosity deepening as a result. I now prioritize a chunk of my travels based on international art fairs and exhibitions throughout the year.
Art has enriched my life already in countless number of ways.
You're based in Tokyo - could you tell us a little about the current art scene there? Any art tips for people visiting Tokyo for the first time?
Sadly, I don't feel too inspired or excited about the art “scene” here. Japanese people appreciate art but typically speaking, they don't really engage or collect for their own pleasure or home.
There are several quality museums that put on solid exhibitions, but I personally feel that the contemporary art market has never been strong. I was recently in a discussion with two of Japan’s top collectors and they both expressed their undeniable concern – borderline-devastation – to this reality: there aren't any emerging artists in Japan that they deem worth collecting (succeeding the likes of Kohei Nawa, ChimPom, Kouki Tanaka). As overgeneralized a statement this may be, I feel the younger generation of Japan lack the passion, ambition, and energy for many facets in their life, not just in the arts. Then again as a different interpretation, because there has always been such a high level of “cultural” content to begin with historically – whether it be Japanese cuisine, architecture, fashion, technology… etc, perhaps there has never been a dire need for expressionism through contemporary art.
For first timers to Tokyo, check out the Nezu Museum to be immersed in some pre-modern Asian art and take a walk in the lush Japanese gardens on site. Also, Mori Art Museum on the 53rd floor of Roppongi Hills is always worth a visit, as it focuses on contemporary art and primarily exhibits works of Asian artists. Espace Louis Vuitton in Omotesando is also highly recommend; it's a simple art space on top of the store, but acts as an urban sanctuary and has curated shows for international artists like Steve McQueen, Jan Fabre, Pierre Hughes.
As a side note, there is so much amazing architecture in Tokyo: buildings, from the likes of SANAA, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando to Kengo Kuma, unpretentiously and generously scattered in areas like Aoyama, placing a focus on this point might be more worthwhile.
How do you see the future of Contemporary Art in Japan?
Unlike in the past where there were just 4 or 5 eminent individuals in the collecting world from Japan, I do feel we have a budding life of successful high-spending entrepreneurs showing an interest in art. I think they have realized that art collecting is a way of self-expression and a lifestyle. Most importantly, it facilitates interaction with the international market. Often verbal communication becomes a barrier for Japanese people no matter their status, but art allows them to make a statement and announce themselves. The only dilemma is that Japanese collectors are interested mainly in collecting the established western artists and little attention is placed on supporting the local market.
What's your favourite art destination and why?
I know it’s almost becoming cliché but hands down, Naoshima Art Site is my favourite! I’ve been over 10 times now and every pilgrimage has taught me something new. The island itself is located in the Seto Inland Sea, which offers beautiful scenery, but the harmony of art, architecture, nature is what's so special here – it frees the mind and offers spiritual healing. The Chichu Museum designed by Tadao Ando houses installations by James Turrell, Walter de Maria and paintings by Claude Monet. Its execution is so timeless and impeccable, I’ve never seen a museum that brings together architecture and artwork to become one.
In a similar way, the Teshima Art Museum by Rei Naito and Ryu Nishizawa is one of a kind. The architecture itself represents a droplet of water, and the atmosphere inside is magical. Openings in the ceiling allows light, wind, sound of nature to breathe in and out of the dome, reminiscent of being inside a mother's womb. It's as if the entire structure is alive.
The House of Light by James Turrell was also an unforgettable visit. It's located ironically in the countryside of Japan, Tokamachi. I rented the traditional Japanese-style wooden house so my friends and I could stay over and wake up in our futons to the experiential light programme of the "skyspaces". Unforgettable memory to sleep in a contemporary art work.
I’d like to revisit Sifang Art Site in Nanjing again as I am now interested in contemporary Chinese art than when I first visited two years ago and would appreciate it much more.
And on a side note, a trip to the Judd Foundation in Marfa, Texas is bound to happen. After the visit to Judd's former residence in Soho, this thought has never left me.
If you had no limit to your budget, what would you purchase?
I love Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko... I mean who doesn't right? But if I could buy anything for myself, I’d say a huge Kusama Pumpkin painting. Not only because she's one of the most recognizable contemporary artists in the world, but how she was so avant-garde and ahead of her time and being a Japanese female on top of that, makes her a true pioneer; I have so much to respect for her. On a more realistic level, the kinetic energy and power I feel from Gutai artists like Kazuo Shiraga and Atsuko Tanaka have always attracted me. I wouldn't mind having a powerful piece if I had the wall space to do it justice. Recently I’ve become slightly obsessed with Dan Flavin, but this could be just a phase.
Is there a particular artwork that has moved you? If so, how and why?
I think Jordan Wolfson’s animatronic sculpture was very “moving” in a sense that it shined light on the future of contemporary art and What it could look like. His media and approach is innovative. The resulting art is creepy yet familiar, and stirs emotions, and I felt that it was a new way to provocatively represent our current society – I think that's what contemporary art is all about.
Could you name us some of your favourite Asian artists? What have you purchased recently?
I recently purchased a Zhao Zhao and have a commissioned work on its way by Kohei Nawa. I also acquired a few Hiroshiges and Kunisadas at the beginning of the year. I love the colour tones used in the ukiyoes that I collect- vibrant yet elegant. I’ve been eyeing a few works by Ni Youyu and Zheng Guogu and I think this year I'll go ahead with it.
My favorite artists would be Kusama Yayoi and Takashi Murakami. I know, how typical! They are such legends. When I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Uli Sigg at his castle a few years ago, I spotted a Yayoi Kusama piece on the wall symmetrically juxtaposed to a commissioned work by Deki Yayoi, and I found such charm and genius in this display. So I went back to Asia and immediately purchased a Deki Yayoi piece that was shown at a private sale at Christie’s Hong Kong.
What is your collecting style? Do you have a theme or any guidelines?
Honestly for myself, collecting is about personal pleasure. Some may say for economic activity, to support emerging artists, for investment purposes, but I like to be able to relate to the works and for it to bring emotion. Art is like reading a book, but you read images instead, and it tells a story that you can revisit and reflect on.
I prefer works that have a strong message and delivered in the best way possible to tell it, so I place emphasis in the chosen media. The "pixcell" series by Kohei Nawa for example is a good example- the glass beads dynamically covering the surface of a given object represents “cells” and the visual experience brings a new depth in which details are magnified. This provokes the viewer to observe the inner object from an entirely new perspective and hence, creates a redefined reality.
My father has advised that a good collection is not [only] about the value of each work, but the coherence of the collection as a whole; it is important to have a theme. In this case, I’m all over the place. It takes years of maturity to become a good collector. And I'm far from dabbling along his "coherent" collection of Stellas, Lichtensteins, and Duchamps, but the works I choose are collective messages, memories, and mark milestones in my life. In a nutshell, maybe that's my theme.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like to read more interviews with other art collectors in our Art Lovers column here.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.